Isn’t it Funny? Problem Solving in Bali

Each day presents Margret with a particular new challenge. Some problems are ongoing.

Lately, the pond water has drained out too quickly without being replenished. The system works in a complex fashion in which no little water drop gets left behind. Even the shower water drains out into the pond behind Margret’s house. When the pond water gets too low, it heats up quickly from the intense Bali sun. Then the fish die. This has happened before. Margret calls over the gardener, Ketut, Wyan (also works in the garden and does security at night), and Wira (pool manager and negotiator of Balinese politics). They all inspect a hole in the pond wall where water quickly pours out into another pond behind it. Margret instructs them to fix it.

In a moment, Ketut and Wyan are in the pond, building up the wall. Then Wyan pours cement into the pond. Just pours it right in. Apparently, it settles and solidifies. He assures Margret they’ve fixed the hole. She very clearly asks that he fix it with cement two more times that day. She holds up her fingers: two more times. It seems like Wyan understands.

Some of the giant fish lurking in the pond are carp. Others are algae eaters with beautiful red fins. They surface once in a while for a little breath of air. There are microorganisms in there was well, settled into the pumice stones on the bottom, that reduce the mosquito population here at Jiwa Damai. As a well-loved mosquito target, I tell you that they aren’t so bad here. Those little no-see-em biting flies, however, are another story…

It’s not so easy keeping paradise looking like paradise.

Cleaning the leaf litter from the jungle trees overhanging the beautiful pool here takes a few hours out of Wira’s day. He is quite the everything man, and always ready with a smile to boot. He made a particular effort to remember and understand my name the other day. He had me spell it out for him on the kitchen counter. He was unfamiliar with Britney Spears, my usuaul go-to for helping people remember my name. She’s a convenient reference, as most people know who she is. Cue Jamie’s man, Diego, shouting, “Brrrrrrrritneeeeeey Speeeeears!” every time I called or came over in a pleasant baritone.

Balinese don’t apologize. They get embarrassed, which to them is the equivalent of sorry. They are never wrong, as Ketut drove home to me, “They make problem with me. Tell Mar-gar-et Ketut do thing wrong. But I no wrong. For me, I right. I know I right.”

Balinese dogs are not like western dogs. They are not really trainable, do not follow commands. Sometimes they are dinner instead of man’s best friend.

Half of Balinese income goes towards ceremonies. The other half goes to food. There’s nothing left for the home, or for education. Often, the home of a Balinese person falls into disrepair while the temple shines. Balinese appease their gods with offerings of food on a daily basis. But the food isn’t truly offered – it’s taken home and consumed afterwards. The “offering” is more like lending. Look after this food, I’ll be back for it at the end of the day.

Balinese women do not marry for love, they marry for status. Every Balinese woman wants to hook a white man. Remember, men, when you marry the woman you marry the family. It’s a package deal. For western women, marrying a Balinese man means giving up all your rights. You cannot own land, or inherit it. Everything you own becomes the man’s property.

You have to throw your western mind into convulsions to try to understand the Balinese way of thinking. Margaret, who spent time teaching in the U.S., Russia, Germany and Switzerland in addition to her 9 years of work in Indonesia, says that it’s the extreme opposite of the western mindset, more so than China or Japan.

There’s a thin, short, muscular woman who works here. I have seen her carry rocks in a bucket on her head. Today she filled a bucket with water and walked up several steep steps with the bucket on her head multiple times. When Margaret inquired why they were not using the water pipe that is up where they are doing construction, they looked befuddled. Someone mumbled that it wasn’t working…best not to ask.

When she first acquired the retreat center, she had to purge the previous owner’s staff. She had seen them in action and knew they were lazy, untrustworthy workers. She wanted to clean house. The man who was the main manager under the previous ownership, we’ll call him Osaka, he also happens to be Jiwa Damai’s neighbor. He decided to sneak in and remove the pipe that allowed water to slowly drain from the main pond into one farther back on the property.

His idea was that Margaret would blame the new person she’d hired, fire that person, and Osaka would get his job back. It’s hard to imagine what possessed him to think that he’d be hired back, even if she fired the new person (the fact that Margaret can fire anyone makes waves here). What’s more; Margaret couldn’t accuse him of it because they couldn’t catch him. Instead they had to fix the drain hole so that even if he removed the pipe, the water would drain at the same slow rate. Confrontation, or going straight to the source of a problem, does not exist. To make matter’s worse, Osaka put his pig pen right on the border of his and Margaret’s property. Sometimes when I’m doing laps in the pool I get a little whiff of pig.

For all of this politicking, so far I find the Balinese to be an incredibly generous and good-natured people. I have never seen a more graceful, beautiful people. The women ride their scooters like princesses, with flowing garments and straight spines. They are quick to smile and to share, quick to invite you to one of their many ceremonies. I have already attended one dancing ceremony with Wira and a cremation ceremony with Ketut. Riding on the back of Ketut’s scooter I felt my life flash before my eyes at least 5 times. Between the potholes, buses, huge trucks and 70 million other scooters on the road, it was hard to imagine how anyone gets anywhere.

The man who works security speaks no English, but he saw my tattoo on the way to the pool and proceeded to show me his. On one bicep he has a dragon – excuse me, a good Baron, or demon – and on the other a curly cue, barbed wire looking design. I gave him two thumbs up.


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